The Power of Concentration
If you’d spent a fair bit of time engaged in Buddhist meditation practice, you would have likely been introduced to concentration practice. Concentration is considered an important part of awakening. It is a different kind of training the mind than awareness meditation. Some Buddhist teachers call it “thinning of the me,” which is a good way of thinking of it.
Concentration practice is another way to allow us to let go of the things that hinder us in our work to cultivate quiet, compassion and openness to the presence of the Spirit. Buddhists aren’t the only folks who have skin in this game. Christians have been doing concentration practice for a very long time.
One of these practices is common in Eastern Orthodox settings. It is the repetitive saying of the Jesus Prayer (often “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” or just “Jesus have mercy.”) The repetition of the Jesus prayer was a method used by early Christians to open the heart to bring about the “Prayer of the Heart” – Paul’s unceasing prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:17). From St. Hesychios the Priest (from the Philokalia):
Continuity of attention produces inner stability; inner stability produces a natural intensification of watchfulness; and this intensification gradually and in due measure gives contemplative insight into spiritual warfare. This in its turn is succeeded by persistence in the Jesus Prayer and by the state that Jesus confers in which the intellect, free from all images, enjoys complete quietude.
In Catholic settings, the Jesus Prayer is most often said while praying the Rosary. Having never been a Catholic, and having never really been introduced to Catholic contemplative practices during my life before discovering them in seminary, I was introduced to the Rosary by an unlikely fellow, named Gordon Atkinson, who used to have a blog called “Real Live Preacher.” He’s a Baptist, and he prays the Rosary.
I first started my rosary practice about 10 years ago. There are two things I like about this practice. First, it really does “thin the me.” In focusing my mind on the prayers I’m saying, there is a kind of attention I’m paying to those prayers, and lots of other things just fall away. Second, I get to determine what prayer I use for the beads. Most often, I pray a modified Lord’s prayer for the large beads, and say the beatitudes for the small beads. But I can change this up, depending on how I’m feeling, but it still basically has the same effect.
I also have added making the rosaries as a practice. They are actually pretty easy to make, and it can be a powerful process to prayerfully make your own Rosary, then use them for prayer. (Just google “rosary kits” it’s amazing what you’ll find.)
The physicality of the rosary practice is so different than other practices, and it is very powerful in helping us to let things go. When I am praying the rosary, there really isn’t much else there besides the beads and God.